NEW YORK CITY – On the eve of one the nation’s largest gay pride parades, a rainbow of colors illuminated the Empire State Building like a guiding light for hundreds of thousands of people flowing into the city for Sunday’s festivities.
But just a couple of avenues east in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, transgender rights activists crowded into a dim room, reading speeches and poems about why they were skipping this year's Pride festivities.
“While you’re off celebrating Pride, our community is dealing with the brutal deaths of Zoraida Reyes, Tiff Edwards, Yaz’min Shancez,” said Lourdes Ashley Hunter, speaking at an anti-Pride event organized by poet activists DarkMatter. Hunter is a member of the Audre Lorde Project’s TransJustice program, a New York-based organization for trans and gender non-conforming people of color.
The tagline of NYC Pride’s website reads, “Yesterday’s struggle is today’s heritage.” However, for transgender people of color the struggle continues.
Every week of June this year – a month designated to remember the history and struggle of the LGBT community – a transgender woman of color was found dead.
On June 3, Kandy Hall’s body was found in a field northeast of Baltimore. Eight days later, on June 11, Zoraida Reyes, a 28-year-old Mexican activist involved in Southern California transgender and immigration advocacy groups, was found behind a Dairy Queen. Her death is still being investigated as suspicious. On June 19, the burned body of Yaz’min Shancez, 31, was found behind a dumpster. And on June 26, three days before New York and San Francisco Pride, 28-year-old Tiff Edwards was found shot to death in a suburb of Ohio.
Hunter’s speech at the start of the “Anti-Pride” poetry slam captured the feelings of many transgender people of color.
“The mortality rate of a black trans woman is 35 years old,” Hunter said. “I’m not supposed to be here...put that on the cover of Time.”
Transgender activists march down Manhattan's Christopher Street on June 27 – a few blocks from the Stonewall Inn where riots in 1969 ignited the LGBT rights movement. Kevin Tsukii/America Tonight
Although the grand marshals leading this year's San Francisco and Manhattan Pride parades were both black transgender women (writer Janet Mock and actress Laverne Cox of "Orange Is the New Black" fame, respectively), activists objected that the violent deaths of four transgender women of color weren’t discussed in the mainstream media as Pride parades were being thrown across the world. Despite their violent deaths, the four transgender women were only covered by local and metro news outlets.
“Honestly, it makes me think that having Laverne Cox as a grand marshal is for show...they want organizations to show that they are inclusive,” said Jay Toole, a lesbian activist who participated in the 1969 Stonewall riots that triggered the start of the LGBT rights movement.
Many like Toole see a problem in the incongruity between the estimated millions watching Laverne Cox and the public’s ignorance towards the daily violences transgender people face.
“Pride has become less about resistance and [more] about partying,” said Janani Balasubramanian, an organizer with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, an organization that advocates for the rights of undocumented queer and transgender people. “There’s severe, willful ignorance towards [these] issues and trans people of color.”